FDA authorizes Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for kids 5-11: COVID-19 updates

October 29, 2021
The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children, being labelled and packaged at a European manufacturing facility.
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The Food and Drug Administration on Friday voted to recommend Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine to kids ages 5 to 11, but steps remain before children will be able to receive injections. 

The FDA cleared kid-size doses – just a third of the amount given to teens and adults –for emergency use, and up to 28 million more American children could be eligible for vaccinations as early as next week.

One more regulatory hurdle remains: On Tuesday, advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will make more detailed recommendations on which youngsters should get vaccinated, with a final decision by the agency’s director expected shortly afterward.

“With this vaccine, kids can go back to something that’s better than being locked at home on remote schooling, not being able to see their friends,” said Dr. Kawsar Talaat of Johns Hopkins University. “The vaccine will protect them and also protect our communities.”

The only age group that has official approval from the FDA is people 16 and older. Teenagers and children from 12 to 15 have also been authorized to get the vaccine under emergency use.

With FDA’s action, Pfizer plans to begin shipping millions of vials of the pediatric vaccine – with orange caps to avoid mix-ups with the purple-capped doses for everyone else – to doctors’ offices, pharmacies and other vaccination sites. Kids will get two shots, three weeks apart.

While children are at lower risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19 than older people, 5- to 11-year-olds still have been seriously affected – including over 8,300 hospitalizations, about a third requiring intensive care, and nearly 100 deaths since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the FDA.

Also in the news:

►The Navajo Nation reported 97 more COVID-19 cases Thursday, bringing the the tribe’s totals to 36,508 cases. Its health department issued an advisory notice for 48 communities due to uncontrolled spread of COVID-19.

►World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is running unopposed for a second term to head the global agency overseeing the world’s pandemic response.

►Chinese organizers have confirmed participants in next year’s Winter Olympics will be strictly isolated from the general population and could face expulsion for violating COVID-19 restrictions.

►Ohio State University researchers have created a breath test that appears to be highly accurate at rapidly screening patients for COVID-19.

►Florida CFO Jimmy Patronis is trying to lure California-based chain In-N-Out to the Sunshine State amid closures of some locations because employees have gone against local ordinances to check customers’ vaccine statuses.

📈Today’s numbers: The U.S. has recorded 45 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 743,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 245 million cases and 4.9 million deaths. More than 191 million Americans – 57% of the population – are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

📘 What we’re reading: COVID vaccines for kids aren’t as clear-cut as for adults. Here are 5 factors for parents to consider.

Keep refreshing this page for the latest news. Want more? Sign up for USA TODAY’s Coronavirus Watch newsletter to receive updates directly to your inbox and join our Facebook group.

Florida files lawsuit against Biden administration over vaccines 

Florida has filed a lawsuit in federal court to block the Biden administration from carrying out a measure to require vaccinations against COVID-19 for federal employees and contractors.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis made the announcement at a news conference Thursday morning where he described the mandate for federal contractors as “heavy-handed” and an overreach by the federal government. He said Florida will seek a preliminary injunction that would block the federal rule from taking effect Dec. 8 as scheduled.

Thursday’s announcement is the latest salvo in DeSantis’ ongoing battle with the administration of President Joe Biden over federal vaccine requirements. Biden says the vaccine mandate will help bring an end to the pandemic.

However, 21 Republican state attorneys general Wednesday penned a letter to Biden saying the mandate “stands on shaky legal ground” for federal contractors.

DeSantis also blasted a pending rule from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration that would compel companies with 100 or more employees to require vaccinations or frequent COVID-19 tests for workers. 

Meanwhile, the Department of Education asked an administrative judge Thursday to issue a cease and desist order against Florida and rule the state is violating federal law as it tries to cut aid money to two school districts over their mask mandates.

– Gary White, The Ledger

Iowa passes bill to allow those fired over COVID vaccine mandates to get unemployment benefits

Iowans could have wider latitude to claim medical and religious exemptions from employer COVID-19 vaccination mandates — and would qualify for unemployment benefits if a business fires them for not complying — under a bill state lawmakers approved Thursday

The bill, which immediately drew criticism from business representatives and opponents of vaccine mandates, would mark a significant change in the way Iowa approaches vaccination requirements by employers if Gov. Kim Reynolds signs it into law. 

“Not only do I plan to sign this legislation, but I am committed to doing even more,” she said in a Thursday news release. 

The Republican bill specifies that employees who refuse the vaccine and are fired would not be disqualified from benefits.

The bill additionally says employers “shall” waive a vaccine requirement for an employee who submits a statement that receiving the vaccine would be “injurious” to their health or well-being, or that it conflicts “with the tenets and practices” of a religion the employee adheres to or belongs to.

– Ian Richardson, Des Moines Register

NYC vaccine mandate for city workers looms

New York City’s employees, including police, firefighters and garbage collectors, have until 5 p.m. Friday to show they’ve received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine or face being put on unpaid leave.

Thousands of municipal workers may miss the deadline as the mandate has drawn protests from some of the city’s workers and union leadership. City data shows 26% of police personnel, 29% of firefighters and EMS workers and 33% of sanitation workers have yet to receive a dose.

“My job is to keep people safe — my employees, and 8.8 million people,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in defense of the mandate. “And until we defeat COVID, people are not safe. If we don’t stop COVID, New Yorkers will die.”

The city’s fire department said it expects to close 20% of fire companies and take 20% of ambulances out of service as it deals with the staffing issues.

Pharmacies turning away walk-in flu shots amid worker shortage struggle

People throughout the country are running into an unexpected side effect of the pandemic: walk-ins being turned away because of staff shortages at pharmacies.

Pharmacies are struggling to find workers, much like restaurants, retailers and other employers facing labor shortages as the pandemic drags on, and as a result, drug stores are falling behind on flu shots. 

Some 11.5 million adults had gotten a flu shot at a pharmacy through Oct. 9. That’s down 34% from 17.4 million during the same period in 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Among independent pharmacists, nearly 9 in 10 “can’t find pharmacy technicians” and nearly 6 in 10 “can’t find front-end employees to run the cash register, track inventory and manage other basic store operations,” according to a survey conducted in May by the National Community Pharmacists Association.

Public health experts have warned of the dangers of a bad flu season and continued COVID-19 spread straining hospitals.

– Nathan Bomey

Tonga reports first COVID-19 case

The island nation of Tonga reported its first COVID-19 case Friday after a traveler flying to the country tested positive.

Tonga is only one of a handful of countries that had reported no COVID-19 cases. Its isolation as a small island in the southern Pacific Ocean has allowed to it to remain unscathed during the pandemic.

The vaccinated traveler from New Zealand arrived from Christchurch on Wednesday and had been quarantining at a hotel. They tested negative before arriving in Tonga.

5% of unvaccinated adults have left a job because of a vaccine requirement

As the federal government prepares to unveil new vaccination rules for workplaces, 5% of unvaccinated adults say they have left a job because of a COVID-19 vaccination requirement, according to a survey released Thursday.

That represents 1% of all adults, according to the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, which conducted the survey of 1,519 adults Oct. 14-24.

The White House is reviewing an emergency Labor Department rule requested by President Joe Biden spelling out vaccination rules for businesses with 100 or more employees. When released, the rule will fill in the details on how workers at larger businesses must get vaccinated or be tested regularly for the coronavirus. 

Separately, federal employees and contractors must get inoculated unless they qualify for an exemption.

— Maureen Groppe, USA TODAY

Economy grew just 2% last quarter as COVID raged, supply snags slowed deliveries

The U.S. economy slowed substantially in the third quarter amid an armada of obstacles, including a surge in COVID-19 cases, supply chain bottlenecks, rising consumer prices and the fading effects of federal stimulus measures.

But with COVID-19 cases now tumbling and vaccinations rising, most economists are branding the weak showing a soft patch in a still-robust recovery from the pandemic-induced recession, with a healthy rebound projected in the final months of the year.

The nation’s gross domestic product, the value of all goods and services produced in the U.S., increased at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 2% in the July-September period, the Commerce Department said Thursday. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg had forecast a 2.8% rise in GDP.

 Paul Davidson, USA TODAY

Excessive drinking during pandemic leads to dramatic spike in liver transplants, study says

The national list for people seeking liver transplants skyrocketed during the coronavirus pandemic, shooting up 50% higher than predicted before COVID-19 affected the country. 

A study released Tuesday by University of Michigan researchers – published in JAMA Network Open – revealed a positive correlation between the increase in the number of people on a waiting list for a liver and the increase in retail sales of alcohol during the pandemic timeframe. 

People seeking liver transplants experience alcoholic hepatitis – when the liver stops processing alcohol and instead creates toxic chemicals that trigger inflammation and kill off healthy liver cells needed to survive.

In the new study, researchers compared the exact number of new people put on the U.S. organ transplant list from March 2020 to January 2021 with the projected numbers that were based on pre-pandemic data. Researchers next correlated national monthly retail alcohol sales records between January 2016 and 2021. 

— Scott Gleeson, USA TODAY

Cheap antidepressant shows promise treating early COVID-19

A cheap antidepressant reduced the need for hospitalization among high-risk adults with COVID-19 in a study hunting for existing drugs that could be repurposed to treat coronavirus.

Researchers tested the pill used for depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder because it was known to reduce inflammation and looked promising in smaller studies.

They’ve shared the results with the U.S. National Institutes of Health, which publishes treatment guidelines, and they hope for a World Health Organization recommendation.

The pill, called fluvoxamine, would cost $4 for a course of COVID-19 treatment. By comparison, antibody IV treatments cost about $2,000 and Merck’s experimental antiviral pill for COVID-19 is about $700 per course. Some experts predict various treatments eventually will be used in combination to fight the coronavirus.

Contributing: The Associated Press



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